Washington Says Yes to Brazil’s Plan to Keep Its Military in Haiti

The United States has endorsed a one-year extension of the mandate for the U.N. stabilization force in Haiti, MINUSTAH, proposed by Brazil, which leads the multinational military force in the country.

At a multi-national meeting on the troubled Caribbean nation in Washington, Thursday, February 1st, the Bush administration also committed another US$ 20 million in aid to Haiti,

The mandate for the U.N. force, sent to Haiti following political upheaval in 2004, has been renewed by the Security Council every six months since then.

But the Bush administration says it will support a one-year extension when the issue comes up again later this month, as part of an effort to show international staying power in Haiti, where crime and chronic poverty continue to threaten the country's struggling democracy.

Announcement of the move capped a semi-annual meeting of the international contact group on Haiti, co-chaired by U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns and the Haitian Foreign Minister Jean-Rénald Clérismé.

Fifteen countries, most of them in the Western Hemisphere, took part along in the day-long meeting, along with seven international organizations including the United Nations and Organization of American States.

Burns said the 6,700 member Brazilian-led U.N. force, and a 1,7000 member international police contingent, are needed to back the political reform and economic programs of the Haitian government of President René Préval.

"This is currently under debate at the United Nations and there's been some talk about whether or not it should be renewed for a short period of time, or a longer period of time. It's the very strong view of the United States that this is a United Nations military mission that is making a great difference and a positive difference. And the presence of that mission is essential for stability and peace, and to deter crime in Haiti," he said.

The meeting here came amid a background of international concern about the stability of the Haitian government in the face of mounting gang violence and deteriorating economic conditions.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group warned in a report this week that Haiti could be overwhelmed by violent crime, unless the Préval government and the international community acted to reform the police and judicial systems.

However appearing alongside Burns at a press conference, Haitian Foreign Minister Clérismé said that crime in the capital Port-au-Prince, though serious, has begun to decline since the arrival of the U.N. force.

"With the support of MINUSTAH, now all displaced people can come and go. We still continue to have some kidnappings, we still continue to have some gangs operate, but the number has been reduced really to, I don't say the minimum, but it has been reduced drastically," he said.

The Haitian Foreign Minister said U.N. troops and Haitian police had begun targeting gang leaders and that the capital could be pacified very shortly so that investors, driven out in the last decade by violence, can return to Haiti without fear.

Burns said the Bush administration, which has provided Haiti with US$ 640 million in aid since 2004, announced at the meeting that it is committing another US$ 20 million in assistance.

It is to be targeted at creating employment for young people in the violence-torn Port-au-Prince slum area of Cité Soleil, considered the most impoverished area in the hemisphere's poorest country.

Burns said the situation in Haiti would be a major issue in talks he and Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon have next week in Brazil and Argentina, which are both contributors to the Haitian U.N. force.

He said the trip will otherwise be aimed at creating stronger bilateral relations with the two South American powers.

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